Art is Non-Essential
No, yes, we have heard enough of this; but have we really considered what it is to be an artist at this time?
Tucked away in one of Singapore’s industrial area, Art Seasons Gallery is ergonomically designed and dedicated to spotlighting the unique features of each artwork displayed. White, clean, and almost surgical with no gaudy decorations, the artworks are able to take centre stage and complement one another.
Opening the exhibition was a small but compelling oil painting of a man donning a surgical mask by young Singaporean artist Yeo Tze Yang. With distinct painterly strokes characteristic of the artist, the piece is reminiscent of works from the 80s with its bold and contrasting colours. Titled Self Portrait, the confrontational glare from the subject could potentially be plastered on a poster advertising for surgical masks – an upfront allusion the adoption of a new daily essential in these trying times.
By South Korean sculptor Xooang Choi, a nude lady exuding heavy melancholic feelings greeted visitors as they entered through the glass door. The billowing mass atop her head seems to weigh her down as she broods with the worries of the world in her hair. The Dreamer Blue could almost be an embodiment of a Regina George’s description from the movie Mean Girls (2004); “her hair is so big, it’s full of secrets.”
These two works guarding the entrance set the moody and still tone for the heavy topic gone cold – “Art is non-essential”. Brazen as the claim may be, stakeholders in the Singapore creative community were quick to defend the status of their industry, and for a good many within, their livelihood. As reflected within the Sunday Times survey, 71% of the 1,000-odd participants opted for artists as one of the top 5 non-essential job appointments. The result is a telling revelation that the creative sector still lacks its long-overdue recognition within the public domain, making the works done by galleries like Art Seasons even more relevant in bolstering the confidence of emerging talents or industry heavyweights.
Poll results aside, the pandemic also brings along yet another breed of people with blatant disregard for the crisis at hand, resulting in even more satirical artworks that flood the internet and art landscapes. Singapore Artist David Chan takes a jab at the people who refuse to wear their masks properly through his work Fully Protected. While surgical masks are a common sight, he extended his ridicule to individuals who wore masks that were unnecessary when the virus first surfaced, such as gas masks and N95 masks. The chimpanzee is a glaring nod to the “monkeys (read: idiots)” who refuse to take such emergencies seriously or simply wish to blow things out of proportion in a bid to skew narratives towards their own interests.
Wandering further into the gallery and one would find a work on the far end of the wall that was inspired by luxury brands and their products. Luxury by Liu Xuanqi is unsurprisingly donned with the artists’ signature clouds. The depicted mask being reworked into a luxury handbag conveys how masks are now more than a protective wear; it is now a display of style and a fashion accessory. Cloudy with a chance of expensive, the iconic Louis Vuitton Multicolore Monogram Collection colours are not to be overlooked. The handle itself is reminiscent of the classic Lady Dior bag handle with its laid-down edges. The 2D background against the 3D subject creates a stark contrast that questions the reality and viability of the subject. Riding on the sauturation of online fashion trends, the surrealistic take on masks as an article of fashion may even be actualised as a genre of luxury soon, and Liu Xuanqi’s painting hangs as a documentation of this transition.
Divert focus to the work on the partition wall behind and one would notice PHUNKED by Singapore contemporary art and design collective PHUNK. Bold, bright, and audacious – these words are possibly encapsulating of their iconic and graphic style. The punk graphic combined with an array of dizzying colours is yet another commentary on world issues. The collective focuses on topics such as fake news, electoral issues, and governmental concerns at large. Deep diving into details reveals many notable characters who grace this piece. A myriad of deities, the Hong Kong Police, POTUS, and Disney characters; these are the hodgepodge of symbolic imageries that point to the major events that occurred in 2020, almost like a little dystopian version of “Find Waldo” for anyone who has had to go through something in the year.
With subtle yet strong commentaries on the situation for creatives, these exhibits speak for themselves about the oppression and complications across the world. Now, who says artists are non-essential? With much on their plates already, are scientists going to capture these historical moments in their petri dishes? Ultimately, artists are the acting archivists who will document and make lasting impressions on the world at large.
Pay Art Seasons gallery an online visit through their website: https://www.artseasonsgallery.com/